Communication-app popularity shows importance of mobile data

Whether for instant messaging, voice-over-internet-protocol calls or video chat, use of communication apps continued to rise in 2016.

According to Roy Morgan Research, Facebook Messenger collected another million Australian users last year, while WhatsApp pulled ahead of Skype, Viber lost some of its vibe, and Chinese behemoth WeChat remained foreign to all but a select few.

Roy Morgan’s findings indicated that:

  • In the six months to December, the number of people living in Australia aged 14 and over who used Facebook Messenger via mobile phone in an average four weeks grew 19 per cent compared with the year before, to 6.5 million.
  • Facebook-owned WhatsApp also grew strongly, up 15 per cent to 2.2 million average monthly users. Skype was virtually steady with just over 1.6 million users, but Viber fell 28 per cent to 869,000.
  • WeChat may have a similar number of global users as Viber, Skype and WhatsApp – but the vast majority are in China. Among Australians, just 340,000 now use the app in an average four weeks (up seven per cent compared with 2015).

With their capacity to side-step international calling and texting charges, or chat face-to-face with loved ones around the world, communication apps are distinctly popular among the 5.6 million Australian residents who were born overseas, Roy Morgan says.

The research company says almost one in five overseas-born Australians now use WhatsApp in an average month (19.1 per cent), compared with 7.9 per cent of people born here. Skype usage is also around 2.5 times higher among foreign-born (14.4 per cent) than home-grown Australians (5.7 per cent), and Viber usage is more than three times higher (8.6 per cent vs 2.7 per cent).

WeChat is still known primarily as a communicate channel with China, the research has found, with only around 100,000 native-born Australians (0.7 per cent) using the app, compared with almost a quarter of a million people born overseas (4.2 per cent).

The popularity of Facebook Messenger is just as high among both groups, according to the research, with 32.9 per cent of overseas-born and 32.6 per cent of native-born Australians now using the app via mobile phone.

Roy Morgan Research CEO Michele Levine says communication apps that use data for voice and video calls go over the top of traditional telephony networks.

“Mobile users often have ample or unlimited local and national calls, minutes and texts included in their plans,” she said. “However, international calls are usually limited or an additional cost. So by using data, these apps are particularly ideal for Australians who want to regularly speak to (and see the face of) loved ones overseas, while avoiding potentially expensive international rates.”

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